Category Archives: Theater Reviews

Penny Arcade Longing Lasts Longer at St Ann’s Warehouse

Penny Arcade’s ‘Longing Lasts Longer’
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor THE EDGE
Wednesday Dec 7, 2016

Penny Arcade is a proud 66-year-old wunderkind who rocks the house, vibrates the walls and reduces audiences to tears and raucous giggles and cheers at St. Ann’s Warehouse until December 11 with her new show, Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer.” Everyone — boomers, millennials, tweeners, tweeters, and if we could, our cats and dogs and parents — should run, limp, uber, bike or subway to see this show.

It is a mélange of a true prayer meeting, a barnstorming, a testimonial on living young for five decades and never conforming, but always observing life with a gimlet eye. Penny Arcade is a performer with whom many of us grew up. Often she was a first in the genre of “performance art.” And she never disappointed, but now she is at the top of her game and basking in Justin Townsend’s lights, which when they turn magenta just tickle her.

Arcade, whose real name is Susana Ventura, grew up in a traditional Italian immigrant family, left school when she was 13 and came to live on NYC’s Lower East Side. She performed with Wavy Gravy, was a superstar in Andy Warhol’s Factory and acted in many productions at John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous before launching into her long, lauded, solo performance career.

What is refreshing and compelling about Arcade’s work is her honesty and facility with language, academic concepts, (although she is an autodidact), and her ability to thread cultural observations across the decades seamlessly and lay them at our astounded feet. She begins the show in the gleaming St Ann’s Warehouse space by roaming the audience greeting old friends, doing a bit of chit-chat here and there.

She told the audiences one night that sitting with Marina Abramovic was like sitting with a dog who had been hit by a car, and yet everyone kept saying she was so brave. No one speaks more truth to power than Penny Arcade. And whether you agree with her take on modern art, the suburbanization of our beloved New York City, the solipsism of our youth or the way technology is absorbing our lives, you do not want her to stop coming at you with the force of a hurricane.

Arcade has been collaborating with Steve Zehentner for 25 years. He is on stage with her, albeit to the side, working the sound and collaborating on the direction. Arcade on occasion stops when she gets lost in her patter and asks Steve, where she is going. They banter, he restarts the music and Arcade fiercely forges forward. There is a never a moment when you feel she is anything but genuine, and firmly rooted in the moment. And so as the audience you go with her on her every tangent, gambol, and cultural perambulation.

Arcade says that some people say she is angry, but I identified the emotions as a righteous, yes longing, for what is and was good and amazing. She takes nearly everyone to task: the tourist zombies eating their way across New York bumping into the locals because they have not been inculcated into the art of “the dip” as a way of artful avoidance of collision on the streets and sidewalks; the curse of the Princess Plague, those women tottering along on sky-high heels, arms linked because they have seen “Sex in the City”; and the SUV-sized baby carriages toting giant children through life.

Arcade is never looking to be politically correct; she is looking to be genuine and honest. “I was queer before there was a queer theory. Now we are obsessed with getting pronouns correct. This is another way of distracting us from the loss of democracy.” Arcade’s preferred pronoun, by the way, is “your majesty.” You laugh, and you think. As Arcade says, “Thinking is tough, that’s why so few people do it.”

The show skewers what Arcade calls “The Tyranny of Fragility,” continuing, “There are generations of kids who have never been slapped. Nothing takes the zing out of feeling like a genius than getting slapped.” Yes tough love, but it is certainly what many of us have thought in secret parental or teacher, or avuncular hearts.

The show is seventy-five minutes of non-stop great cogitation, amazing music, a little dancing here and there, and a room crammed with intense feeling. One can feel the wheels turning as we all conjure memories, love, lust and ire, but as Arcade advises, never nostalgia. Only longing, because longing lasts longer and we all want the glow from this show to linger.

Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer” runs through
December 11 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street in Brooklyn NY. For tickets or information, call 718-254-8779 or visit http://www.stannswarehouse.org

Peter Brook Returns to BAM with ” Battlefield”

Battlefield

by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Friday Sep 30, 2016

 

Thirty years later, Peter Brook retakes the stage created for him at the BAM Harvey Theater with “Battlefield,” a pared-down, much older writer’s take on the aftermath of the great saga and battle illuminated in the “Mahabharata.”

I first encountered Brook’s work in 1971 when I sat spellbound in the BAM opera house watching his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” From there I endeavored to see all I could from his Bouffe Du Nord theater in Paris, to the Aix-en-Provence Festival, to LaMama. I sat transfixed through the nine hours of Brook’s original “Mahabharata” in 1987 and came back for more.

The original work, based on the epic poem, runs over 200,00 lines of poetry and featured a company of nearly 60 actors. There was music, elaborate costumes, and breaks for sustenance for the intrepid audience.

“Battlefield” is a story told on a bare stage, after all it is the final story in the saga where nearly everyone has been killed and laments a world littered with corpses. Four actors –Carole Karemera, Jared McNeil, Ery Nzaramba and Sean O’Callaghan – inhabit the many characters who tell the tale and fables within stories. Each is remarkable, mutable, reverent and wonderful to regard.

The characters are transformed via accents, affects, and a few errant pieces of cloth. These minimal costume pieces by Oria Puppo allow quick changes and echo the sparse world we witness. Everpresent on the edge is the extraordinary percussionist, Toshi Tsuchitori, who created the music for the original “Mahabharata” and continues to propel this final version forward.

This iteration focuses on Prince Yudishtira and he wrestles with how to live in a world that he has been instrumental in obliterating. This is a battle where even victory is dry dust as both kings have lost all of their families and loved one. They try constantly to unravel the notions of culpability and an afterlife where rebirth is possible. The language in this epic can be astonishingly beautiful. The various tales are evocative of Aesop’s fables, the Bible, and parables like those in the Koran, but all spun together with a distinctly Indian twist.

The play, at less than 90 minutes, is a slow-marching mediation asking the audience to question their own mortality and the choices we have made as a modern society with a constantly war torn world swirling at our well-fed feet. It is a world where” justice is blind and sorrow destroys wisdom.”

The audience at BAM is graying, like your scribe, and so it is a group often contemplating our legacy and the plight of the world we have either helped sink or shape, or perhaps turned our backs on. I spoke with Brook as I left, and I saw a spark still in those crystal-blue eyes, but this work is the effort of a man who at 91 still wants us to see the glory of the “Mahabharata,” a book Brook says is “an immense canvas covering all the aspects of human existence.”

“Battlefield” runs through Oct. 9 at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street in Brooklyn. For tickets or information, visit http://commerce.bam.org/tickets/production.aspx?pid=11668

http://www.edgemedianetwork.com/preview////203828

Men On Boats: All Woman Cast

Men On Boats
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Saturday Aug 13, 2016

Perhaps the wild fire success of “Hamilton” has opened a niche for theater pieces that are historical, irreverent and so non-traditionally cast that they shake us wonderfully. Such is “Men on Boats” originally produced by Clubbed Thumb, a company which since 1996 has presented and commissioned over 100 ground breaking, new works.

“Men on Boats” written with wit and wisdom by Jaclyn Backhaus, features a fearless, fierce all woman cast. Let’s start there. There is wonderful audacity to feature men in the title and yet a swirl of women embodying the explorers who ventured down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869 on the first trip taken by white explorers, and helmed by one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell.

Ten men in four boats embarked on a journey that covered and mapped almost 1,000 miles through uncharted canyons. This changed the west forever. Three months later, only five of the original company plus Powell would emerge from the depths of the Grand Canyon. “Men on Boats’ takes us, in 140 minutes, through every harrowing, often hilarious step of the trip.

The scene is set by huge black and white photomontages of the canyons, cliffs and waterways. The glorious cast holds up only the prows of the boats and yet the fervor, the danger, the heroic saves and swirling eddies is all completely vital. This is of course a concatenation of scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, beautiful costumes by Asta Bennie Hostetter, and sound design that wraps the audience in crashing waves and splintering boats, wrought by Jane Shaw.

The cast is stunning. Kelly McAndrew as Powell leads the pack with a dry wit, cool delivery equally capable of sharing geological facts or short quips. Her lead clues us in to the fact through the writing and the spot on direction by Will Davis, we will constantly be flipping from modern jargon, to late 19th century patter and the jokes and wisdom will be packed in between as tightly as the flour, bacon, whiskey and scientific instruments were stowed on the small vessels that plummeted down the canyon.

There is at times a cartoonish take as Powell and Kristen Sieh, who plays Dunn, a founding member of the theater company and often a cohort to Powell ruminates about what names to give cliffs and inlets, mountains and rivers. There is a nod to the fact that most of this glorious landscape had been named and traversed for eons by native people, but none-the-less, white men do what they must.

The cast features a range of voices, sizes and colors as the women portray crew members like Sumner, (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) who is strait laced and a constant stoic until faced with a rattlesnake when (s)he becomes a whimpering high pitched shrieker who is saved by the cook’s coffee pot.

Birgit Huppuch portrays Goodman, the youngest, smallest boatman. Goodman brings a humor and pluck to every scene and even heroically saves Powell who is stranded on a cliff. In this work, Goodman takes off his trousers and tosses a leg to Powell to haul him over. Emblematic of the play, when the rest of the crew arrives, Goodman and Powell are hugging in gratitude with pants tossed to the side. It is this ability to portray history while not bogging down in it, that makes evening so magical and important.

The rest of the cast, each inspired, includes Elizabeth Kenny as Old Shady, Powell’s brother and a humors character who can assume the shape of a shady tree. Layla Khoshnoudi, Danaya Esperanza, Danielle Davenport, Hannah Cabell, and Jocelyn Bioh round out the crew.

I had the great, and terrifying honor of rafting down the Colorado for only a week and this play brings back the glorious grandeur of the physical surroundings, the amazement of rapids and water falls traversed, and how lucky we all are to have tales to tell that are as magical as “Men on Boats.”

“Men on Boats” runs through August 14 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42 Street in NYC. For information or tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit ww.TicketCentral.com

When I Was A Girl I Used To Scream and Shout now at Fallen Angels Theater

Entertainment » Theatre
When I Was A Girl I Used To Scream and Shout
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor
Wednesday Apr 20, 2016

Fallen Angel Theater Company was founded in 2003 by actor Aedin Moloney, who shines as the mother Morag in the off- Broadway premier of Sharman MacDonald’s play with the intriguing title of “When I was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout.”

Fallen Angel Theatre is, according to their mission statement, “the first American company committed to presenting outstanding and dynamic new Irish, American and British plays written by and about women, with the goal of interpreting these plays in a fresh, exciting and commercially viable way for New York audiences.” This company is lauded in the program by Mayor De Blasio and seated behind this reviewer was Mayor Emeritus David Dinkins; quite a political firmament for a tiny theater.

This is a realistic play set on the rocky coast of Scotland in 1983 and it encapsulates so many of the roiling conversations shouted, murmured or even truncated that happen between mother and daughter, and daughter and best friend. The triangle is composed of Mother, played expertly by Moloney, and her daughter Fiona brought to life as an adult, wee child, teen and young woman by the very accomplished Barrie Kreinik. Zoe Watkins brings great zest and humor to the childhood best friend, Vari, now married with three bairns of her own.

The director John Keating and set designer Luke Cantarella have contrived this work so that the shoals of the beach are always visible and this may be the metaphor for this play that is at once beguiling, funny and bitingly acerbic. The beach can be calm, sunny, or the waves can throw any of these women onto the rocks and away from safety, however that is defined.

The vibrant, mutable nature of the relationships in the script are echoed in musical direction and compositions by renowned musician and composer Paddy Moloney, leader of The Chieftains. This is Mr. Moloney’s first collaboration with his daughter Aedin and Fallen Angel Theatre Company.

We see from a series of well crafted, beautifully written scenes that bounce back through time as Morag gets a divorce and she and her daughter toss barbs and treacle back and forth as if it were a badminton match. They cuddle, they fight and they can cut each other to the bone because they have every knife sharpened with history.

They have heard the cries and the sadness and seen the hopes and dreams. This is the life of mothers and daughters. And there is always a “bestie” in the wings waiting with her story and her reflections about what she has observed and learned. In this case Vari is the one Fiona runs to in order to inquire about sex, or when you have a first slimy kiss yet long for a real sweet one.

Author MacDonald is at the top of her game writing women’s truth. The scenes where the girls describe first sex, the weirdness of “his hard thing,” the thrill of a kiss on the ear, the desire for power and even in Fiona’s case the manipulation of getting a country boy, played without guile by Colby Howell, to impregnate you. In this work Fiona gets pregnant as a 15-year-old just to unseat her mother’s second marriage.

As the work opens mother and daughter have gone to a Scottish seaside resort in the town where all the upheaval occurred. Perhaps they are there to finally talk about what transpired half a lifetime ago, or to talk truth about the deep guilt instilled by religion, or perhaps it is a way to start over and forgive. What ensues is a play in two acts that is languid, never rushed and resonates with the powerful ever-vacillating feelings between a mother, and daughter and between friends.

This is a well-polished looking glass held up to complicated women’s lives and it is done with panache, laughter and terrible sadness. The work deserves to be seen and applauded for its honesty and verve and for letting us remember how marvelous and fearful are the many roles women inhabit.

“When I was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout” runs through May 8 at the Clurman Theatre at Theater Row, 410 West 42 Street. For tickets or information, call 212-239-6200 or visit www.theatrerow.org

Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom

*published on 23 Nov 2015 in The EDGE

Eric Folks and Madeline Mahoney play father and daughter in 'Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom'

Eric Folks and Madeline Mahoney play father and daughter in ‘Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom’  

Let me say from the get-go that I am not a fan of video games, but I am a huge fan of the Flea theater in TriBeCa and especially their program to encourage and utilize a young, resident acting troupe called The Bats. With that prejudice out of the way, I attended “Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” with trepidation and left feeling that once again this wonderful theater has a presence and a mission that never fails to, at the very least, shake its audience.

The action takes place on a raked stage evocatively painted to represent gardens and streets, well wrought by designer Simon Harding. This represents a quiet neighborhood ruled with an iron hand by a Neighborhood Association. Here, every aspect of life from lawn height to the position of garden gnomes is tightly regulated.

And yet behind closed doors, the adolescents of Neighborhood 3 are addicted to a video game, which recreates their own geography and personal iconography exactly. The GPS map allows teenagers to battle zombies in their own neighborhood, even in their own houses. Parents try with decreasing success to coax kids from their rooms with cars, hamburgers, interventions and affection; all to no avail.

The play, written with an acid tongue for dialog and great wit by Jennifer Haley, premiered at the Humana Festival in Louisville; this is the New York City debut. It is directed with great aplomb by Joel Schumacher, whose wonderful work we know as a writer on “Car Wash,” “St Elmo’s Fire,” “Flatliners” and a few installments of the “Batman.” As well, he directed a number of episodes of the mega-hit “House of Cards.”

A narrator instructs the players on what to do to achieve maximum success in the level sets each scene. It is exactly like watching the gamers set their sites on getting a grenade, or a money clip or in this case garden shears, or a sugar fix. The teenagers all refer to their parents by their first names and seem unable to recognize the danger in being so detached from the linear world.

There are about eight different scenes or levels each artfully populated by a cast of 16, all excellent. The Flea has a policy of a one-sheet program that only lists the participants so I can’t delineate who played what character. They represent parents and children all involved in an elaborate game both in real life or AWK (away from keyboard) and on screen.

The issues raised by the play seemed terrifying to me as the mother to grown children attempting to tether them back to real life and away from screens of all sizes and ilks. However the very young audience thought that there were moments of grand hilarity.

I know from reading Bruno Bettelheim’s seminal work on childhood and the power of fairy tales, “The Uses of Enchantment,” that it is paramount for little kids to be able to envision killing their mothers or isolating their siblings thus Hansel and Gretel, Cinderella and on and on. Perhaps video games provide the same kind of relief from an unempowered life for whomever plays them.

In “Neighborhood 3,” the Shakespearean contrivance of a play within a play finally unites as the kids reach the final terrifying level and one kid seamlessly segues from ignoring and excoriating his mother to actually murdering her with the hammer that was his final level weapon. We see the massacre in an off-stage shadow and when he returns to his game station he finally breaks down weeping. Curtain.

Again perhaps it is the confluence of slaughters in Paris and Mali, across the Middle East, and in movie theaters and elementary school across America, but playing at this level of violence is not entertaining or diverting to me, but rather a terrifying example of a world gone mad.

I applaud the Flea and the panoply of actors and creative stuff that brought this play to fruition, as many in the audience seemed tickled pink.

“Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom” runs through Dec. 20 at The Flea, 41 White Street in New York. For tickets or information, call 212-226-0051 or visit www.theflea.com